Swimming Lesson

I see John pull his cold body out of the water on the far side of the Duke Faculty Club pool. He is not supposed to do that. He is supposed to do another length of paddle kicking and then get ready for freestyle. Instead, he is curled into a fetal position, dripping onto the cement.

So it is with some reluctance that I put down my copy of Cold Spring Harbor. My intent is simple. I want to get him back in the pool. Easier said than done, I think to myself as I navigate through a field of spinning toddlers. The mommies are on cell phones. I am in the middle of a crowd of people that are completely blind to my presence.

“John, tell me what,” and here is where I stumble, because I want to approach him with some gentleness, “you are feeling.”

John is still. His eyes are focused straight ahead, at the surface of the pool’s edge.  His forehead is less than three inches above the cement. I am not making it up. There really is a light blue cast to his skin.

“I don’t like swimming team.

He sounds like he could cry. John never cries. I think he has cried three times since I have known him. The other day, he sprained his foot. No tears.

I can’t blame him. “We ask that parents not interfere with the team,” said one of the squad captains, a squat 15-year old who seemed more than comfortable referring to herself in the first person plural, “and we ask specifically that you not remain near the edge of the water.”

Her motivational method is simple. It goes like this.

“Get in the water….Get in the water, now.”

She lacks patience. I am imagining how that might go over on the baseball team. This year, I had one player that needed to wear a hand puppet when he went up to the plate. He would have been scared otherwise. I have shouted “great hustle” when a fielder approaches first base to make a put out, but then sets the ball down on the base instead of tagging. Don’t stand on home when you hit.  Third basemen stand to the left of the bag. When you tear the ball out of your teammate’s hands in the middle of an outfield scrum, it is best to then throw the ball into the infield afterwards.

And so on. You have to have patience. You have to, because the only way that any child decides to pursue anything.  Kids stick with sports, or music, or the outdoors, because they love doing it. No child has real skill at age seven. Unfortunately, a seven-year old does have the power to decide that they can quit. In a meritocracy, that is irrevocable.

I put my hand on John’s shoulders.  He shivers.

“John, you have to get back in the pool,” I tell him. “I know that you are cold and exhausted, but its like my dad said, ‘you can always go one more step.'”

My dad did say that. He told me that when he took us back country camping, on long walks that no child should have had to endure. I remember thinking, ‘but only four more miles is a long way.’

John’s problem is complicated. He has started two weeks later than the other kids.  They have been swimming ten or twelve laps every day. He has been hitting baseballs.  That said, John is stronger than these kids. There is plenty of flab on some of them.  It is also tough for him because he is not used to being the child that finishes last. He is used to being the one with the answer, the one with the big hit, the one who wins the piano competition. Today, he is the slow kid.

“I really don’t like this,” he says, again. But I think it is probably good for him.  He needs to struggle.  He’ll have the rest of his life to work through all kinds of difficulties.

This is where a number of parents will disagree with me.  I know he doesn’t like it, but I don’t want him to quit until I know he’s not making that choice just because he is tired. I want him to quit after he’s caught up with the other kids. As far as I can tell, that shouldn’t take too long. Some of these kids look plenty flabby. John’s already doing eight lengths without stopping.  A week ago, he was winded after two lengths.

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2 Responses to “Swimming Lesson”

  1. samsondoggie Says:

    Well, we decided to drop the swim team this morning. Now it is going to be swimming lessons.

    He’s still remarkable. Today we played chess, and he did pretty well.

  2. dancing lessons in nyc…

    […]Swimming Lesson « Samson Doggie[…]…

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